U.S – A team of scientists from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has developed a revolutionary method for detecting per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals,” in mere minutes.

Published in Elsevier’s Journal of Hazardous Materials, the study showcases a lab-based technique capable of swiftly identifying traces of PFAS in various mediums, ranging from food packaging materials to water and soil samples.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. Due to their resistance to heat, water, and oil, they are used in a wide array of products including food packaging, cookware, and firefighting foams.

Led by Corresponding Author Hao Chen, an NJIT Chemistry Professor, the research introduces an ionization technique called paper spray mass spectrometry (PS-MS), boasting unparalleled sensitivity and versatility in detecting PFAS contaminants.

Unlike traditional methods, which can take hours for sample preparation and analysis, the newly devised approach offers results in one minute or less, ensuring swift identification of potentially harmful substances.

With a detection limit as low as one part per trillion (ppt), equivalent to a drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools, the method enables precise monitoring of PFAS presence, even in minuscule quantities.

Through rigorous testing, the NJIT researchers uncovered traces of 11 different PFAS molecules in everyday items such as food packaging materials, including microwave popcorn paper and fast food containers.

Moreover, water analysis unveiled the presence of PFAS compounds in local tap water samples, underscoring the pressing need for intensified monitoring and remediation efforts.

National implications

The significance of the study extends beyond laboratory settings, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allocating over U.S$2 billion in grant funding for water quality testing and treatment initiatives nationwide.

NJIT’s BioSMART Center is actively exploring innovative techniques for PFAS remediation, with promising results indicating a potential solution to mitigate contamination risks in drinking water sources.

Looking ahead, the NJIT researchers envision broader applications for their detection method, ranging from consumer product safety assessments to air monitoring endeavors.

By leveraging advanced analytical techniques, including DPS-MS, the team aims to address the pervasive issue of PFAS contamination comprehensively.

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